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What is gonorrhoea?

A photo of Naveen Puri
Associate Clinical Director, and Lead Medical Appraiser, Bupa Global & UK
05 January 2022
Next review due January 2025

Gonorrhoea is a type of sexually transmitted infection (STI). Alongside chlamydia, it is one of the most common STIs in the UK. It can affect anyone who is sexually active.

So how can you tell if you have gonorrhoea? And how is it treated? I’ll explain more about this common STI here.

What are the symptoms of gonorrhoea?

Many people with genital gonorrhoea don’t have any symptoms at all. If you do have symptoms, they usually appear within two to 10 days of infection. General gonorrhoea symptoms can include:

  • unusual discharge from your penis or vagina – this could be white, yellow or green
  • pain when you pee, or finding it difficult to pee
  • painful or swollen testicles

There are also other symptoms you might experience if your vaginal tract is infected. These include:

  • pain in your lower abdomen
  • pain when you have sex
  • heavier periods, or bleeding between periods or when you have sex

If you have a gonorrhoea infection in your back passage or rectum, you may have some pain, discomfort, itching and discharge from your anus.

If you get the infection in your eyes, it can cause conjunctivitis. You may have pain, swelling and discharge from the affected eye.

A gonorrhoea infection in your throat may not have any symptoms. But occasionally, it may cause a sore throat or tonsilitis.

How serious is gonorrhoea?

Gonorrhoea is easy to treat. But it can cause serious complications if it isn’t treated. These can include problems affecting your reproductive organs such as the fallopian tubes and womb. This can lead to reduced fertility or even infertility.

Gonorrhoea can cause problems in other parts of your body too, including your joints and skin. Getting treatment early means gonorrhoea is unlikely to cause these problems.

What causes gonorrhoea?

Gonorrhoea is caused by a bacteria. You can get it from having unprotected vaginal, anal, or oral sex with an infected person. It can affect your genital area, your throat, your back passage and your eyes if traces of the discharge get into your eye. If you’re pregnant, you can also pass gonorrhoea on to your baby if you give birth vaginally.

Gonorrhoea is most common in men who have sex with men. It also tends to be more common in younger people, with the highest rates occurring in people aged between 20 and 35. But anyone who’s sexually active can get it – no matter what your age, sexuality or gender.

When should you get tested for gonorrhoea?

It’s important to get tested as soon as you can if you think you might have symptoms of gonorrhoea. You should also have a test if you think you could have been exposed to any STI, even if you don’t have any symptoms. This might be if you’ve had unprotected sex with somebody new, or if a regular partner tells you they have an STI. If you do have gonorrhoea, the sooner you’re diagnosed and start treatment, the less likely you are to develop long-term problems.

How do you get tested for gonorrhoea?

There are a several ways to get a gonorrhoea test. You can go to a genitourinary medicine (GUM) or sexual health clinic, or you can ask at your GP practice. You can also pay for tests at a private clinic. In many areas, you can order free tests online that you do yourself at home.

Gonorrhoea tests may involve giving a sample of your pee (urine). It may also involve taking swabs from your penis, vagina, anus or throat.

How is gonorrhoea treated?

Gonorrhoea is treated with antibiotics. You take the antibiotics either as tablets, or as an injection. How you take them can depends on the type of gonorrhoea you have.

If somebody you’ve had sex with has a confirmed diagnosis of gonorrhoea, you may be offered gonorrhoea treatment before your test results are back.

Telling others

It’s important to let any current and recent sexual partners know that you have gonorrhoea. The staff at the clinic can help you to do this, while keeping your details confidential. It’s best not to have sex until at least a week after both you and your partner have finished treatment.

How can I reduce my risk or getting or passing on gonorrhoea?

There are many things you can do to lower your risk of getting or passing on gonorrhoea, as well as other sexually transmitted infections.

  • Use a condom during vaginal, oral, or anal sex with the penis.
  • During oral sex, you can use a latex square (dental dam) to cover the anus and vaginal opening, including the area around it.
  • Don’t share sex toys. If you do, wash them well or cover them with a new condom before anyone else uses them.
  • Before you have unprotected sex with somebody new, have a test for gonorrhoea and other STIs.

We offer a range of sexual health services within our Bupa Health Centres. So whether you have symptoms and need to speak to a GP or don't have symptoms but want a check to see if you currently have an STI we have a check to suit you. Any customers who test positive receive a follow up with a GP and support from our 24/7 Nurse HealthLine. Learn more today.

A photo of Naveen Puri
Dr Naveen Puri
Associate Clinical Director, and Lead Medical Appraiser, Bupa Global & UK

    • Gonorrhoea. NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries. cks.nice.org.uk, last revised November 2020.
    • Sexually transmitted infections and screening for chlamydia in England, 2020. Public Health England, September 2021. assets.publishing.service.gov.uk, published September 2021
    • Gonorrhoea. Sexwise. www.sexwise.org.uk, last updated April 2019
    • Gonorrhoea infection. BMJ Best Practice. bestpractice.bmj.com, last reviewed 10 November 2021
    • Sexually transmitted infections (STIs): annual data tables. Table 2: new STI diagnoses and rates by gender, sexual risk, age group and ethnic group, 2016 to 2020. www.gov.uk, last updated September 2021
    • British Association for Sexual Health and HIV national guideline for the management of infection with Neisseria gonorrhoea. British Association for Sexual Health and HIV (BASHH). www.bashhguidelines.org, published 2019

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